Table of Contents
2.1 Error vs. Mistake
3. Reaction to Learners’ Oral Errors
3.1 Should Learner Errors Be Corrected?
3.1.1 The Focus of the Lesson
3.1.2 Further Influencing Factors
3.1.3 Discussion: Chances and Risks of Correcting/ not Correcting Errors
3.2 Recast and Elicitation – Two Types of Corrective Feedback
3.2.3 Discussion: Two Effective Examples of Oral Error Treatment?
“Should learner errors be corrected? If so, when should learner errors be corrected? Which learner errors should be corrected? Who should correct learner errors? And how should learner errors be corrected?” (Hendrickson 1978, p. 389). This series of questions, raised by Hendrickson, frame the diverse decisions a teacher has to make within only few seconds in his/her daily teaching according to a learner’s error.
To explore special parts of this extensive topic more precisely and to find out what role teacher and learner play exactly in the treatment of oral errors should be the aim of the following investigation.
First of all the theoretical concept of error and correction itself will be dealt with to make clear from which perspective the subject of oral error treatment in the L2 classroom will be considered. Then the research will have a practical orientation to the L2 classroom: in this connection the focus will lie on answering one of the questions raised above namely “Should learner errors be corrected?”. With reference to this we try to find out on which factors the decision of correcting/not correcting students’ errors depends. Answering the question how learners’ errors should be corrected represents such a complex issue that it would be impossible to get a complete look at it in this research. Therefore recasts and elicitations, as special kinds of corrective feedback used in L2 classrooms, are considered in detail to get a deeper impact of possible ways students’ errors are treated in oral work. Simultaneously it should be found out if recasts/elicitations are effective examples of oral error treatment and whether there are differences in terms of the effectiveness according to the type of error that is made.
The “notion of ‘error’ is not at all a simple one” (Allwright & Bailey 1996, p. 83) shows that there is a difficulty in defining the term error. In the course of time many different definitions of error have been developed by researchers mainly arisen from changes in pedagogy. “Typical definitions include some reference to the production of a linguistic form which deviates from the correct form” (ibd., p. 84). In one definition Allwright & Bailey take up the findings made by Chaudron who “defined errors as 1) linguistic forms or content that differed from native speaker norms or facts, and 2) any other behaviour signalled by the teacher as needing improvement” (ibd., p. 86). Another definition states that an error is a form rejected by the teacher (cf. Tsui 1995, p. 43).
According to Corder “[e]rrors should be distinguished from mistakes (sic)” (James 1998, p. 12) which leads to the following distinction of the two terms: an error, on the one hand, is not self-corrigible by its learner, is caused by failure in competence and is significant for the process of language learning because it reflects knowledge. On the other hand a mistake describes a self-corrigible fault not caused by incompetence but performance. Furthermore mistakes play no role in the process of language learning (cf. ibd., pp. 78-79).
But in this study only the term error is going to be used because the distinction between the two seems to be of little practical relevance and is stated as impossible to be considered in class (cf. Bartram & Walton 1994, p. 20).
With regard to the L2 classroom errors are closely connected to the term correction in the way that an error can lead to correction. Lucas (1978) defined correction in oral work as follows: “The teacher gives an immediate correct model after the pupil has made the error” (p. 66). As a consequence of trying to avoid interrupting the student’s speech, at present, researchers do not only consider the view of immediate correction but they also take into consideration that correction can occur delayed or postponed (cf. Tsui 1995, p. 50). Edge comes up to the point that “[c]orrection means helping students to become more accurate in their use of language” (Edge 1989, p. 33), which shows that the teacher’s aim of correction has to lie in supporting students to overcome their deficits in a suitable way.
3. Reaction to Learners’ Oral Errors
3.1. Should Learner Errors Be Corrected?
The question of whether to treat a learner’s error or to ignore it means a highly complex and therefore difficult matter. What teachers and students think about this issue shows the following statement:
To most language teachers the answer to the above question is quite obvious: of course errors should be corrected [...]. This view that errors should be corrected is shared not only by teachers but also by learners. Cathcart and Olsen (1976) conducted a survey of 149 adult learners and a strong preference for correction of all errors was found. (Tsui 1995, p. 46)
In addition to the fact that most students expect teachers to correct them it was found out that there exists the desire of learners to be even more corrected than their teachers actually do in class. But when there was an intensive correction of the learners, it was perceived as a kind of over-correction by them, which, of course, they did not like at all (cf. ibd.; cf. Allwright & Bailey 1996, p. 103).
There are a lot of factors influencing the decision over error correction: for instance the language competence of the students, the kind of students being taught as well as the nature of the error can be identified as such factors (cf. Tsui 1995, pp. 48-49). But before dealing with these points the next step will be to explore how the focus of the lesson influences the decision over correcting or rather not correcting students’ errors. Finally there will be a short discussion of chances and risks of error correction.
 Second language